March 17, 2010

Old face in a new place

TOM CHARD

— By

click image to enlarge

John Patriquin/ Staff Photographer: Friday, March, 28, 2008. Mike Rutherford is coaching Westbrook HS baseball this season seen here working with Shawn McAlpine and other pitchers and catchers inside the high school gym.

Staff Writer

WESTBROOK — Mike Rutherford, the former Portland High baseball coach, stayed away from coaching for a season, but the allure of the game has brought him back.

Rutherford is into his second week as the Westbrook High coach. Last week he worked with pitchers and catchers. This week he's greeting the rest of the team for tryouts and indoor practices.

''I feel this team has a lot of potential,'' said Rutherford, who coached 16 years at Portland, the last 12 as head coach, before stepping down at the end of the 2006 season.

With Rutherford as head coach, Portland went 192-58 with a state title in 1998 and three Western Maine championships.

''We have a lot of work ahead but I feel we can be a top-five team in the Telegram League,'' said Rutherford.

Rutherford, who still teaches social studies at Portland, has a simple answer to what brought him back to coaching.

''I missed the game big time,'' he said.

Rutherford said he purposely stayed away from all high school and most American Legion games last year. ''I didn't come near Hadlock Field,'' he said.

All coaches are attracted to the prospects of having talented players. Rutherford certainly had his share at Portland and feels he may have the same type of players at Westbrook in a couple of seasons.

Last summer he umpired a few Westbrook Babe Ruth All-Star games and was struck by the talent. The players had been members of the Westbrook team that played in the Little League World Series in 2005 and the 13-year-old Babe Ruth World Series in 2006. They are mostly freshmen now.

''There are some real good freshmen in the program,'' said Rutherford. ''I think two or three of them could help us this season.''

The Westbrook job opened when John Eisenhart stepped down after last season. Eisenhart led the Blazes to the Western Class A title in 2005.

''John and his brother Tim did a nice job with the program,'' said Rutherford. ''When I found out that John was getting done, I became very interested in the job. My goal is to make Westbrook a consistent baseball power. Westbrook has always been a baseball town.''

''(Rutherford) is a winner,'' said Westbrook Athletic Director Todd Sampson. ''The number of kids trying out has gone through the roof. They're excited about Coach Rutherford coming on board.

''I can't say enough about the job John Eisenhart did for the program. He built a good program that Mike is going to go forward with. Mike has also made a commitment to the summer Legion program.''

One of the first things Rutherford did was hire a top pitching coach -- Greg Coppeta, a former University of Southern Maine Division III All-American.

''I've always had a top pitching coach,'' Rutherford said. ''I had Kevin Smith when I was at Portland and now Greg. We're good friends. It allows me to focus on hitting, defense, strategy and player development. During games I don't have to keep checking on the bullpen to see if a pitcher is ready.''

Also helping out are assistant coaches Greg Souza and Arlan Freeman.

Rutherford is exciting about what he terms ''having to do more coaching'' this season than his last few years at Portland.

''The Portland kids were so talented, I didn't have to do a lot,'' he said. ''I'm teaching the Westbrook kids my system. They're being given new things to learn and it takes a while.''

With the new job comes getting accustomed to new facilities. While Hadlock was a great place to play, the Bulldogs had to work around the Portland Sea Dogs' schedule.

''Hadlock Field is great but we didn't always practice there,'' he said.

Portland often practices and occasionally plays games at Deering Oaks. Now all Rutherford has to do is walk out the back door of the gym and down a short road to the Blazes' field.

''It's a good facility and we don't have to share it with anyone else,'' said Rutherford.

At Portland, Rutherford's team practiced in the spacious Portland Expo and could do everything under one roof. At Westbrook, Rutherford said he will have to get a little creative in a smaller area. He has 61 players out for the team.

''Indoor practices will be more challenging here,'' he said. ''I plan on breaking them up into smaller groups. Some will be working in the gym, others upstairs in the batting cage and some outside in the parking lot if the weather cooperates.''

It won't be long before the Blazes are outside and can concentrate on winning games.

Staff Writer Tom Chard can be reached at 791-6419 or at:

tchard@pressherald.com

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